Spacemen 3 - Performance
Record Label: Glass Records
Release Date: July 1988
A live album from a band whose sound is created under the banner of "minimal is maximal" might seem like a rather dull affair. But a live album from a band whose motto is "Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to" sounds like a party. The lineup of Spacemen 3 who recorded 1988's Performance adequately sum up both of the band's maxims. It's not dull, and it's not exactly a party (well, not a party for some), but there's something to it. Guitarists/keyboardists/vocalists Jason Pierce and Sonic Boom had by this time perfected the band's sound and vision, despite a revolving door of a rhythm section. Regardless of the rhythm section, the aural document that is Performance captures the sound of a band with few peers in an outside context. Though they'd been a live band (if only an unconventional one, no surprises there) since their inception, their craft makes a lot of sense in the studio: various overdubs, loops and drones can be manipulated easily. But live, in open air, Spacemen 3's ideals have the potential to be just plain boring. The band proves themselves worthy of the stage though, even if they never were great showmen or wizards of their instruments.
One of the strengths of this album is its brevity, coming in at 35 minutes with seven tracks. Of course, this is edited from a much longer cut, yet the choice to edit their performance for an LP makes all the sense in the world--had the record been much longer, it would border on boring. Despite how short the album is, it doesn't necessarily feel short. Only two cuts reach past the 6-minute mark ("Things'll Never Be The Same" and their cover of "Rollercoaster"), but as each song flows with little breaks in between, Spacemen 3 create a river of sound; a discolored, numbly fuzzy current.
Also interesting is their interpretation of their covers. Though they had already gained some notoriety for their covers, in a live setting they succeed just as well. Most interesting are the two MC5 covers "Come Together" and "Starship." Since both of those songs are from the MC5's groundbreaking live album Kick Out the Jams, to hear these two tracks reworked about twenty years later from an English group is exciting. "Come Together" seems to take on a whole new meaning; the original song is blatantly sexual where this version is stripped down to a groove and merely the lines, "Oh God, it's getting closer / God it's so close now," making plenty of room for a new interpretation. Perhaps Spacemen 3 are turning the druggy song into a song about drugs--maybe the high is "so close now."
As a conceptual band more than a song-based band, Spacemen 3 faces a weird problem. They rely on build and release, which is typically exciting live, but the group's music is atypical. It's possible that it would make more sense to be under the influence when seeing and hearing Spacemen 3 live, but that is debatable. Even if their music is "[made] to take drugs to," it doesn't necessarily make for a more interesting live performance. Despite their music being more about mood and texture, their well-crafted studio material is a bit less exciting live. It's stripped down, sounding a bit more raw, but it doesn't quite reach the same euphoric heights and desperate depths the studio material attains.